American Literature Native American Oral Literatures
by
Timothy Powell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0070

Introduction

The oral traditions of Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and First Nations in Canada provide a wealth of insights about the history of literature on the North American continent. Regrettably, however, these traditions are often overlooked by scholars and students of American literature. “Native American oral literatures” is defined here in a fullness that transcends disciplinary boundaries, such that the article will be valuable to the fields of Native American studies, American literature, anthropology, history, religious studies, and folklore, as well as appeal to nonacademics who simply enjoy the art of storytelling. Because there presently are more than five hundred Native American tribes in the United States alone, it is impossible to encompass the geographic and cultural scope of the subject. The temporal scope of the subject is equally daunting, ranging from at least 2000 BCE to the present. The formal borders of the field are similarly vast and included oral performances, videos of storytellers, films, novels, short stories, poems, ethnographies, dances, songs, graphic novels, cartoons, and various forms of material culture. What follows, then, is a suggestive rather than definitive bibliography that ranges from the Arctic to Mesoamerica, from oral narratives about rock art to Pulitzer Prize–winning novels. Because Native American oral literatures are extremely difficult to date according to the chronological scale of Western history, a more indigenous form of temporality is evoked. Rather than imagining a linear timeline, perhaps a better way to think of time in this context is as a dance that circles around, bringing very old stories to life so that they can be adapted to an ever-changing present. The temporal depth of the stories is such that they recount a time when animals could still talk to humans, when the Hero Twins walked the Earth, and when tricksters like Coyote had their way. As the tricksters teach us, it is best to remain skeptical of eternal truths and to consider carefully the unexpected. Thus, the term “oral literatures” should be seen as a purposefully elusive term that can be written down but is always more fluid than black marks on the white page.

Reference Works

This section includes reference works focused on a variety of themes. For an inclusive overview of the vast number of Native American, Native Alaskan, and Canadian First Nations cultures, see Sturtevant 1978–2008, Trigger and Washburn 1996, and Adams and MacLeod 2000. Dillehay 2000 provides a useful research tool to help students and scholars understand the millennia before European contact. Bataille and Lisa 2001 provides a useful resource for scholars and students interested in the biographies of Native American women. Johansen and Grinde 1998 provides a more expansive reference work for Native American biographies. Hirschfelder and de Montaño 1998 is a valuable tool for researching contemporary Native American communities. Wiget 1996 provides a particularly helpful reference for understanding the oral tradition.

  • Adams, Richard E. W., and Murdo J. MacLeod, eds. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Vol. 2, Mesoamerica. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

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    A follow up to Volume 1, on North America (Trigger and Washburn 1996). Includes two parts, both focused on Mesoamerica. Volume 3, also in two parts, focuses on indigenous cultures of South America.

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  • Bataille, Gretchen M., and Laurie Lisa, eds. Native American Women: A Biographical Dictionary. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2001.

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    Originally published by Garland in 1993, contains entries for nearly 250 Native American women. The historical range of the collection spans from the period of contact to the present and is a valuable resource for including Native American women in a history that was long focused largely on Indian men.

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  • Dillehay, Thomas D. The Settlement of the Americas: A New Prehistory. New York: Basic Books, 2000.

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    A good reference tool for understanding the history of indigenous cultures prior to European contact. A useful work because of its overview of debates within the field, which frequently undergoes dramatic revisions with the discovery of new archaeological materials.

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  • Hirschfelder, Arlene, and Martha Kreipe de Montaño. The Native American Almanac: A Portrait of Native America Today. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1998.

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    Includes a wide variety of information on treaties, tribal governments, languages, education, religion, games, and indigenous people in films and videos. The list of addresses for all US tribal governments is a valuable resource for those working on contemporary issues. First published 1993.

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  • Johansen, Bruce E., and Donald A. Grinde Jr. The Encyclopedia of Native American Biography. New York: Da Capo, 1998.

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    Originally published by Henry Holt in 1997, this resource provides a sweeping overview of important Native Americans from the time of early contact through to the present. Also contains information on non-Indians, such as Benjamin Franklin, who played a significant role in Indian–white relations.

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  • Sturtevant, William C., ed. Handbook of North American Indians. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1978–2008.

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    The definitive work on North American Indians, spanning fifteen volumes to date, with a total of twenty planned. The handbook contains information about all indigenous cultures north of Mesoamerica. The articles include a wealth of material: cultural and physical aspects of the tribes, linguistic analysis, history, and precolonial history. Well indexed with extensive bibliographies.

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  • Trigger, Bruce G., and Wilcomb E. Washburn, eds. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Vol. 1, North America. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

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    A comprehensive reference work that includes articles by distinguished scholars on a wide range of topics focused on cultures north of Mesoamerica. The essays feature regional descriptions and thematic issues, such as “Native People in Euro-American Historiography” and “Indigenous Farmers.” As with the other volumes in the series, there are two parts.

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  • Wiget, Andrew. Handbook of Native American Literature. London: Taylor & Francis, 1996.

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    Written by one of the leading scholars of Native American oral literature, the work contains information on both the written and oral traditions. Particularly notable for its detailed analysis of oral literature from different regions of North America.

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Bibliographies

This list is quite brief because White 2004 includes such a comprehensive bibliography. Readers are advised to consult this work for more tightly focused bibliographies of tribes, language families, or regions. Malfara 2011 is a valuable contribution in that it focuses on plays by Native Americans, an often neglected part of the Native American oral tradition.

Anthologies

These works cover the vast temporal and geographic scope of Central and North America. Bierhorst 2002 and Caduto and Bruchac 1991 are accessible to a broad audience and provide a helpful overview to the vast expanse of Native American oral literature. Erodoes and Ortiz 1984 also has an expansive scope but provides more detailed analysis of cultural context. Bierhorst 1984 provides a more focused, though still expansive, approach by concentrating on four important works that derive from the oral traditions of the Nahuatls, Iroquois, Mayas, and Navajos. Deloria 2006 is composed of fragments from historical texts that reflect the oral tradition regarding medicine men and keepers of traditional knowledge from a wide variety of cultures. Dembicki 2010 takes a highly innovative approach that pairs native storytellers with graphic artists, giving it a wide audience appeal. A more regionally focused method of exploring the subject can be seen in León-Portilla and Shorris 2002, which focuses on the remarkably rich region of Mesoamerica. Swann 2005 embodies a slightly different approach, defining a region linguistically by concentrating on stories from the Algonquian language family, which covers a wide geographic swath mostly east of the Mississippi.

  • Bierhorst, John, ed. Four Masterworks of American Indian Literature. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press, 1984.

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    This collection contains translations of four epic stories from the Native American oral tradition: Aztecs, Iroquois confederacy, Mayas, and “The Night Chant” of the Navajo ceremonial cycle. First published 1974 (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

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  • Bierhorst, John, ed. The Mythology of North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

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    Bierhorst provides valuable background material for understanding Native American oral literatures from the different cultural regions of Native North America. Originally published in 1985 by Morrow, the collection is valuable for its detailed explanation of common symbols in oral tradition. Introductory level, but helpful for graduate students as well.

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  • Caduto, Michael J., and Joseph Bruchac, eds. Native American Stories. Illustrations by John Kaiohes Fadden. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 1991.

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    A good introductory text, originally published in 1988. The myths all derive from the oral tradition and cover a wide range of different cultures spanning the North American continent. Caduto and Bruchac’s introduction is aimed at nonspecialists.

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  • Deloria, Vine, Jr., ed. The World We Used to Live In: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2006.

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    Vine Deloria Jr. is the father of the modern Native American studies movement. Topics include the Lakota Yuwipi ceremony, Ojibwe conjuring, the power to call to buffalo, and the spiritual sense of place associated with the Sun Dance. Such material is culturally sensitive and should be treated with care and respect.

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  • Dembicki, Matt, ed. Trickster: Native American Tales: A Graphic Collection. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2010.

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    The collection pairs native storytellers with graphic artists to present a more visually oriented rendering of Trickster stories. Although many of the illustrators have not worked with Native American materials previously, the storytellers are respected members of their communities.

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  • Erodoes, Richard, and Alfonoso Ortiz, eds. American Indian Myths and Legends. New York: Pantheon, 1984.

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    A well-respected collection that includes 166 stories on the philosophical and religious dimensions of Native American cultures. The stories encompass the broad geographic sweep of Native America, but are organized thematically with commentary that emphasizes the spiritual dimensions of indigenous cultures.

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  • León-Portilla, Miguel, and Earl Shorris, eds. In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature, Pre-Columbian to the Present. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

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    A very helpful resource for covering the region of Mesoamerica, which encompasses many cultures and writing systems that range from 2000 BCE to the present. León-Portilla is a distinguished scholar who brings his expertise to the selection of stories. The introductions provide meaningful historical and cultural context.

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  • Swann, Brian, ed. Algonquian Spirit: Contemporary Translations of the Algonquian Literatures of North America. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.

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    Algonquian, or Algic, is a language family that has a vast geographic sweep ranging from California to the eastern seaboard. Brian Swann is a respected scholar who includes origin stories, ceremonial songs, stories of European contact, cultural heroes, and trickster tales.

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Journals

Native American studies has had relatively few journals over the years compared to other fields. American Indian Quarterly was founded in 1974 and is perhaps the preeminent peer-reviewed journal in the field. SAIL is the journal of the Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures. American Indian Culture and Research Journal was started in 1971 and is also considered to be one of the premier journals in the field, broadly defined. Wicazo Sa Review was founded in 1985 and is more ideologically oriented. For an overview of journals focused on First Nations, see First Nations Periodical Index and Canadian Journal of Native Studies. There are also many smaller journals focused more locally. An example of this genre is Oshakaabewis Native Journal, which is dedicated to studies of the Ojibwe language in the United States and Canada.

Theoretical Works

A great many theoretical works have been written about Native American culture. This brief sample represents a cross-section of a much larger whole. Deloria 1988, Ewen 1994, and Mohawk 2010 represent the first generation of Native American theorists working in the academy at a historical moment when the field of American Indian studies was just coming into being, often in sharp conflict with the status quo. Allen 1992 is a landmark study of the unique qualities of feminism in an indigenous context. Smith 1999 is also a seminal text that is widely used to teach responsible and respectful methodology of researching indigenous cultures. Krupat 1998 provides a sense of how contentious the theoretical debates of the late 20th century could be. Acoose, et al. 2008 provides a critical response to Krupat 1998 and other mainstream scholars working in the field of Native American studies. King 2005 provides a welcome counter narrative to these theoretical debates by drawing upon humor and old stories, but told with a new twist.

  • Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.

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    An extremely important text in the history of establishing Native American studies in the academy and situating feminism within Native American studies. Originally published in 1986, Allen provides interesting examples from a wide range of native cultures.

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  • Deloria, Vine, Jr. Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1988.

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    Originally published in 1969 at the height of the culture wars, Deloria takes on the history that had silenced native voices for centuries—treaties, termination policy, anthropological discourse. Deloria, however, uses humor to leaven the arguments and makes for enjoyable reading; an essential book to understanding the origins of the field.

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  • Ewen, Alexander, ed. Voices of Indigenous Peoples: Native People Address the United Nations. Epilogue by Oren Lyons. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Books, 1994.

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    Oren Lyons is a Faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga and Seneca Nations of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois Confederacy, and one of the most important thinkers of the American Indian movement. A powerful example of the oral tradition remains vital in a contemporary political context.

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  • King, Thomas. The Truth about Stories: A Native Narrative. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

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    The Truth about Stories is an important counterbalance to the jargon-laden works of the late 20th century. Humorous and grounded in the ribald nature of the Native American oral tradition, King offers important insights about how to write theoretical studies while still remaining true to the language of indigenous storytelling.

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  • Krupat, Arnold. The Turn to the Native: Studies in Criticism and Culture. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 1998.

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    A controversial, albeit important, work that addressed many of the most contentious issues in the late 20th century, including racial “essentialism,” debates about “sovereignty,” and whether Native American writers can be considered postmodern.

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  • Mohawk, John. Thinking in Indian: A John Mohawk Reader. Edited by José Barreiro. Golden, CO: Fulcrum, 2010.

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    Like Deloria, Mohawk worked at a time when Native American scholars were fighting to establish American Indian studies. Mohawk was a respected elder of the Seneca Nation, deeply knowledgeable of Haudenosaunee tradition, and an important advocate for Native American theorists.

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  • Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. London and New York: Zed Books, 1999.

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    Smith is a Maori from New Zealand. Despite the geographical disjuncture, Decolonizing Methodologies is widely regarded as an essential text for teaching undergraduate or graduate students about doing research with indigenous people and/or working with oral literatures gathered by nonnative collectors.

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  • Womack, Craig, Acoose, Janice, Brooks, Lisa, et al. Reasoning Together: The Native Critics Collective. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2008.

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    A fine collection of native theorists making a convincing argument that criticism in the field of Native American studies must be rooted in the indigenous traditions being studied.

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Ethnography

Ethnography has a long history in the field of anthropology; the works cited in this section provide a relatively brief but representative sampling. These works have been chosen to highlight how the field has always involved collaborative research, although native people were often not credited explicitly. Speck and Broom 1983 (first published in 1951) provides an example of this older style taught by Franz Boas (Leonard Speck was one of Boas’s first graduate students at the turn of the 20th century). It is notable for crediting Will West Long, a Cherokee medicine man. Deloria 1988 was also written by a student of Franz Boas and an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux/Lakota tribe, significant for being one of the first native people to work in the field of ethnography. Ortiz 1972 is also an important example of ethnography done by a scholar who lived within the culture he studied. More contemporary, collaborative approaches are represented here by Basso 1996, Cruikshank 2000, and Evers and Toelken 2001. There are many more fine examples of ethnographies included in the geographical sections of this article.

  • Basso, Keith H. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.

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    A deservedly renowned analysis in which Basso worked closely with elders from western Apache bands to construct a map of place-names in the Apache language. An excellent resource for teaching students the importance of place and language in native cultures.

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  • Cruikshank, Julie. The Social Life of Stories: Narrative and Knowledge in the Yukon Territory. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

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    A very fine analysis of the exceedingly complex roles that stories play in social relations in the Yukon region. Cruikshank spent many years working with Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith, and Annie Ned. The chapter entitled “Pete’s Song” provides an in-depth analysis of the cultural ownership of stories.

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  • Deloria, Ella Cara. Waterlily. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 1988.

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    Ella Deloria was a very fine, if underappreciated, Yakton Dakota Sioux anthropologist who studied with Franz Boas at Columbia from 1915 to 1942. The novel, completed by Deloria in 1954 but not published during her lifetime, contains richly detailed cultural insights into Dakota women in the mid-19th century. New addition published in 2009.

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  • Evers, Larry, and Barre Toelken, eds. Native American Oral Traditions: Collaboration and Interpretation. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2001.

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    Evers and Toelken explore the possibilities engendered by collaborative work between native and nonnative working together on oral texts. Each chapter includes an oral narrative, most with the native language and English texts, an analysis of the narrative, and a discussion of the collaborative process.

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  • Ortiz, Alfonso. The Tewa World: Space, Time, Being, and Becoming in a Pueblo Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

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    Originally published in 1969, The Tewa World constitutes a landmark in the field. Ortiz is an enrolled member of the Ohkay Owingeh (San Juan) Pueblo and helped to establish the role of Native Americans in the field of anthropology. Controversial because it contains esoteric material protected by the pueblo.

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  • Speck, Frank G., and Leonard Broom. Cherokee Dance and Drama. In collaboration with Will West Long. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983.

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    Originally published in 1951 by the University of California, this classic ethnographic work is based on research done by Speck and Broom between 1929 and 1935. Will West Long, a Cherokee consultant, was a talented ethnographer in his own right.

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Literary Studies and Ethnopoetics

Native American literature has been a rich field for critical analysis. Hymes 1981 represents an older style called “ethnopoetics,” which was based on very detailed linguistic analysis. Brill de Ramirez 1999 and Swann 1987 focus specifically on the oral tradition. Powell 2007 and Wiget 1991 address the question of how the Native American oral tradition fits into the field of American literature. Weaver 1997 provides a helpful overview of the history of Native American literature in its printed form. Brooks 2008 provides more tightly focused analyses of specific tribes. See also Warrior 1995, Womack 1999, and Justice 2006 (cited under Indian Territory, Oklahoma).

  • Brill de Ramirez, Susan Berry. Contemporary American Indian Literatures and the Oral Tradition. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1999.

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    A theoretical discussion of how the written Native American literary tradition can be read using techniques associated with the oral tradition. Brill de Ramirez analyzes the work of Sherman Alexie, N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko and others who invoke dimensions of the oral tradition.

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  • Brooks, Lisa. The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native Space in the Northeast. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

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    Brooks focuses on the Native Northeast, particularly the Wabanaki culture. A valuable analysis of early indigenous writings and a theoretically innovative work that draws upon on Wabanaki linguistics to formulate an indigenous epistemology.

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  • Hymes, Dell. “In Vain I Tried to Tell You”: Essays in Native American Ethnopoetics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

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    Ethnopoetics is an important academic subfield that developed out of concerns about how to translate not only from one language to another but from the oral tradition into written form. Dell Hymes is one of its finest practitioners, weaving together folklore, linguistics, literary analysis, poetry, and performance theory. Reprinted in 2004 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press)

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  • Powell, Timothy B. “Native/American Digital Storytelling: Situating the Cherokee Oral Tradition with American Literary History.” Storytelling by Freeman Owle; digital design by William Weems. Literature Compass 4.1 (2007): 1–23.

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    Published in an online journal, the format allows the authors to take advantage of digital technology to embed videos of Freeman Owle, a storyteller from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and interactive maps. The essay explores the question of how the oral tradition fits into American literary history Available online for purchase or by subscription.

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  • Swann, Brian, ed. Smoothing the Ground: Essays on Native American Oral Literature. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.

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    A scholarly collection of essays that includes many distinguished authors working in the field of folklore, literature, linguistics, and anthropology. A good overview of the different techniques scholars use to read oral literature—structuralism, ethnopoetics, comparative, etc. The interpretations are suitable for upper-level undergraduate or graduate classes.

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  • Teuton, Christopher B. Deep Waters: The Textual Continuum in American Indian Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

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    An important analysis of the continuities between visual traditions such as Mesoamerican codices, wampum, and sandpaintings as they relate to contemporary works of American Indian literature. N. Scott Momaday, Gerald Vizenor, Ray A. Young Bear, and Robert J. Conley are the authors analyzed in depth.

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  • Weaver, Jace. That the People Might Live: Native American Literatures and Native American Community. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

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    A very helpful overview of the field of Native American printed literature from its origins in the 19th century to the fecund period of the late 20th century. Encyclopedic in scope, the close readings are insightful and astute.

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  • Wiget, Andrew. “Reading against the Grain: Origin Stories and American Literary History.” American Literary History 3.1 (1991): 209–231.

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    An interesting, if rarely considered, topic: how the origin stories of the Native American oral tradition fit into American literary history. A useful essay for survey classes of American literature seeking greater cultural diversity.

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Novels, Poetry, and Short Stories Reflecting the Oral Tradition

Literary works can provide a powerful and accessible way to approach the oral tradition. The late 20th and early 21st centuries have witnessed a remarkable proliferation of very fine literary works by native authors that explore the connections between material culture, oral storytelling, and written forms of storytelling. Erdrich 2006 depicts the role that a drum plays in the destitution and healing of an Ojibwe community. Harjo 2002 features many poems that bring mythical characters from the oral tradition into contemporary urban settings. Silko 2006 juxtaposes ancient stories from the Puebloan cultures with the story of a native veteran overcoming posttraumatic stress disorder. Welch 2011 immerses the reader in the traditional world of the Kiowas in the midst of the Indian Wars of the 19th century. Vizenor 1992 and King 1994 reflect the humor that is so important to many indigenous cultures. Ortiz 1992 and Tapahonso 1997 provide lustrous examples of how poetry can be infused with Native American spirituality.

  • Erdrich, Louise. The Painted Drum. New York: Harper Perennial, 2006.

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    One of the finest and most prolific contemporary American Indian writers, Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain band of the Ojibwes. Although the narrative is complex, Erdrich here depicts the drum as animate, sentient character (one might say the drum is the main character of the novel).

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  • Harjo, Joy. How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, 1975–2000. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

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    Harjo is a distinguished Creek, or Muscogee, poet. This collection contains poems from her first seven books and some new works. “Deer Dancer,” “Song for the Deer and Myself to Return On,” and “A Map to the Next World” explore the connection between “urban Indians” and the oral tradition.

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  • King, Thomas. Green Grass, Running Water. New York: Bantam, 1994.

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    An underappreciated masterpiece of contemporary Native American literature. King takes the Trickster tales that derive from American Indian oral literature and weaves them into a contemporary story about the importance of ecological stewardship. The many playful references to the western tradition make the novel valuable for courses in American literature.

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  • Ortiz, Simon J. Woven Stone. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992.

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    This collection of poems deepens our appreciation of the origins of the oral tradition, exploring how poetry emanates from the land itself or from the spirit world. “The stories and poems come forth, /and I am only a voice telling them.”

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  • Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony. New York: Penguin, 2006.

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    Perhaps the most widely taught work of literature by a Native American author. Silko is from Laguna Pueblo. The novel, originally published in 1977, masterfully tells the story of a World War II veteran struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome and is able to engage the healing powers of Spider Woman.

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  • Tapahonso, Lucy. Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories. Tuscson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.

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    Tapahonso is a Navajo writer who uses poems and short fiction to create an intimate portrait of contemporary life on and off the reservation that intersects on profoundly deep levels with the teachings of the ancestors. Her poetry is striking for its use of the Navajo language as integral to understanding an indigenous worldview.

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  • Vizenor, Gerald. Dead Voices: Natural Agonies in the New World. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992.

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    Vizenor is an Ojibwe/Anishinaabe writer from the White Earth band in northern Minnesota who has had a long distinguished career. Dead Voices teaches well because of its playful sense of humor about conflicts between Native American wisdom keepers able to transform themselves into talking animals and “wordies,” or Euro-Americans.

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  • Welch, James. Fools Crow. New York: Penguin, 2011.

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    Welch was a Blackfeet/Gross Ventre writer from Montana. This novel, originally published in 1986, is remarkable in that it submerges the reader in the world of the Piikáni, or Blackfeet, at the height of their struggles with the US Army in the 19th century.

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Songs, Dances, and Material Culture

Many Native American cultures do not have a word in their language for what is called, in English, “literature.” To understand “Native American oral literature” in its fullest sense, grounded in indigenous practices, it is necessary to explore interrelated forms such as dance, songs, music, and material culture. Oral performances of stories, dances, and songs are ephemeral, so they can be difficult to express in written form. The works presented in this section represent a variety of techniques ranging from wax cylinder recordings to photography to digital video. Mooney 1973 is the oldest work (originally published in 1896), relying on vivid first-hand accounts, sketches, and early photographic technology to represent the Ghost Dance. Densmore 1910–1913 is by one of the first women working in the field of anthropology; her work was recorded on wax cylinders and is of great interest because she documents how the Ojibwes recorded their own songs as pictographs etched on birch bark. Barker, et al. 2010 makes very effective use of photography to document stories told in the form of dance. Heth 1992 also uses exquisite photographs to document dance across many different Native American cultures. Evers and Molina 1987 is a very fine study of Yaqui songs and a strong example of collaborative scholarship. Nungak and Arima 2001 demonstrates the relationship between soapstone carving and myths from the Inuit culture. Williams, et al. 2005 provides an imaginative juxtaposition of material culture from the Penn Museum and writings by native people inspired by the objects. The Ahtna Heritage Foundation website makes use of video and the Internet to provide a sense of dance performance in the Ahtna community.

  • Ahtna Heritage Foundation. Ahtna Heritage Dancers.

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    The Ahtna Heritage Foundation, which can be accessed through its website, provides a striking example of how Native Alaskans, Native Americans, and First Nations people are using digital technology to preserve oral literatures, dance, and material culture. These video clips allow the viewer to hear stories and watch traditional dances.

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  • Barker, James H., Ann Fienup-Riordan, and Theresa Arevgaq John. Yupiit Yuraryarait: Yup’ik Ways of Dancing. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2010.

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    Fienup-Riordan provides a helpful overview. The book demonstrates the relationship between oral traditions and dance. The 150 photographs, by Barker, provide a meaningful visual dimension.

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  • Densmore, Frances. Chippewa Music. 2 Vols. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1910–1913.

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    Frances Densmore was one of the first women to do anthropological fieldwork for the American Bureau of Ethnology beginning in 1907. A classic in the field of ethnomusicology. Many of these songs are Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society) and are therefore culturally sensitive.

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  • Evers, Larry, and Felipe S. Molina. Yaqui Deer Songs/Maso Bwikam: A Native American Poetry. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1987.

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    One of the finest examples of collaborative research between scholars and indigenous wisdom keepers. Evers is a highly respected scholar and Molina is a fluent speaker and keeper of deer songs in his own culture. The analysis interweaves ethnographic methodology, personal reminiscence, poetry, and visual imagery.

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  • Heth, Charlotte, ed. Native American Dance: Ceremonies and Social Traditions. Washington, DC: National Museum of the American Indian, 1992.

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    Dance can be a difficult subject to teach, but the photography in this volume provides a valuable resource for conveying the visual dimension that is often integral to the performance of “oral literature” in its most expansive sense—spirituality, regalia, dance, music, and storytelling as integral components of traditional knowledge.

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  • Mooney, James. The Ghost-Dance Religion and Wounded Knee. New York: Dover, 1973.

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    Originally published in 1896, this is a remarkable anthropological account, given that Mooney was present at Wounded Knee in 1890. The text is full of first-hand accounts of the Ghost Dance. Mooney also provides historical background to previous revitalization movements.

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  • Nungak, Zebedee, and Eugene Arima. Inuit Stories/Legendes Inuit: Povungnituk. Gatineau, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 2001.

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    This collection features forty-eight stories from the village of Povungnituk, an Inuit community near Hudson Bay in northern Quebec. The village is a center for Inuit carving in Canada. Beautiful photographs of seventy-two soapstone carvings are nicely arranged in relation to well-crafted myths told by the sculptors themselves.

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  • Williams, Lucy Fowler, William Wierzbowski, and Robert W. Preucel, eds. Native American Voices on Identity, Art, and Culture: Objects of Everlasting Esteem. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2005.

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    This collection juxtaposes vivid photographs from the museum’s collection with commentary on each object by native people, written in the style of oral literature.

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Native Alaskan, Northwest Coast, and Arctic

The Northwest Coast of North America is one of most linguistically and culturally complex regions of the continent and has been well studied for more than a hundred years. Indigenous people of the region have also been very active in the research. A good example of this can be seen at the Ahtna Heritage Foundation. On the other end of the spectrum, Boas 1969 and De Laguna 2002 provide a sense of how long anthropologists have been working in the region and how valuable the material collected in the early 20th century is now. Flaherty 1998 is an early example of ethnographic filmmaking. Cruikshank 1990 provides a complex and compelling example of how stories are owned and utilized by indigenous cultures from the Yukon Territory. Dauenhauer and Dauenhauer 2000 is an excellent example of the epic tradition of oral literature from Tlingit culture. Fienup-Riordan 2005 offers important insights into how stories work in the intimate setting of extended families. Thompson and Egesdal 2008 explores the different senses of history as embodied by oral narratives.

  • Ahtna Heritage Foundation.

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    The Ahtna Heritage Foundation provides a good example of how tribes are utilizing digital technology to strengthen community ties, support research projects, and disseminate the First Nations’ views to a larger audience.

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  • Boas, Franz. Kwakiutl Tales. New York: AMS, 1969.

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    Originally published in 1910, this is a classic work by the father of modern anthropology. This collection of stories provides richly detailed insights into the Kwakwaka’wakw, as they are now self-identified. Boas worked closely with George Hunt, a fluent Kwak’wala speaker from Fort Rupert, British Columbia.

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  • Cruikshank, Julie, ed. Life Lived Like a Story: Life Stories of Three Yukon Native Elders. In collaboration with Angela Sidney, Kitty Smith, and Annie Ned. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

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    A truly collaborative effort, the stories of Sidney, Smith, and Ned are notable because of how they demonstrate the way that the oral tradition works in modern times to explain historical phenomenon such as the Klondike gold rush, epidemics, and the building of the Alaska Highway.

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  • Dauenhauer, Nora Marks, and Richard Dauenhauer. Haa Shuká, Our Ancestors: Tlingit Oral Narratives. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.

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    The Daunhausers are a highly respected team that brings an array of skills to the transmission of oral narratives. Together they have produced vivid translations of the stories along with a detailed analysis, in the introduction and notes, of the oral style, content, and linguistic complexities of Tlingit oral narratives.

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  • De Laguna, Frederica. Tales from the Dena: Indian Stories from the Tanana, Koyukuk and Yukon Rivers. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2002.

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    De Laguna was a highly respected anthropologist who worked for many years among the Tlingit and Athapaskan peoples in Alaska and Canada. This collection, originally recorded in 1935, includes stories from a number of communities in the Athapaskan language family. First published 1995.

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  • Fienup-Riordan, Ann. Wise Words of the Yup’ik People: We Talk to You Because We Love You. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 2005.

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    An intimate portrait of storytelling in the Yup’ik culture as conveyed between elders and youth within a close-knit culture. The stories come from gatherings organized by the Calista Elders Council and thus reflect a strong dimension of community participation.

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  • Flaherty, Robert J., dir. Nanook of the North: A Story of Life and Love in the Actual Arctic, 1922. DVD. Claremont, CA: Criterion Collection of Janus Films, 1998.

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    Flaherty is often cited as the father of ethnographic filmmaking. Originally issued in 1922, Nanook is a controversial film that has been criticized for staging events and, in some cases, putting the lives of the Inuit people in danger to achieve dramatic effect.

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  • Thompson, M. Terry, and Steven M. Egesdal, eds. Salish Myths and Legends: One People’s Stories. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008.

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    Salish is a language family that includes First Nations and Native American tribes in the inland regions of the Pacific Northwest. Thompson organizes the collection thematically under epic stories, why things are the way they are, Trickster stories, historical events, etc.

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California

The indigenous cultures of California are numerous and extremely diverse; linguists estimate that approximately one hundred distinct languages existed in the region. Like the Northwest Coast, the region has produced many very fine scholarly works, ranging from Kroeber 1907 to Hinton 1994, which document the importance of language and the insights revealed from a region with such linguistic diversity. Gifford and Block 1990, Lang 1994, and Luthin 2002 are good resources for scholars and students interested in studying the oral tradition as it manifests itself in stories. Sarris 1994 offers a more contemporary view of Native American writers working today, drawing upon the oral tradition and enlivening it for the present.

  • Gifford, Edward W., and Gwendoline Harris Block, eds. Californian Indian Nights. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1990.

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    Originally published in 1930 and reissued sixty years later, the text has come under criticism for reflecting intellectual views from earlier in the 20th century that are less well regarded in the 21st century. While these critiques should be taken into account, the collection provides a representative overview.

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  • Hinton, Leanne. Flutes of Fire: Essays on California Indian Languages. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 1994.

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    Hinton is a distinguished linguist, a field that is often unwelcoming to nonspecialists. This book is nicely written, providing a valuable introduction to the remarkable linguistic complexity of the region now known as California. The book focuses on language revitalization and although not explicitly about oral literatures, it is nevertheless valuable.

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  • Kroeber, A. L. “Indian Myths of South Central California.” American Archaeology and Ethnology 4.4 (1907).

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    Kroeber, one of Franz Boas’s first students, left the East to found the anthropological and linguistic study of Native Californian cultures. This seminal essay explores his interest in studying myths from a linguistic point of view.

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  • Lang, Julian, ed and trans. Ararapíkva: Creation Stories of the People; Traditional Karuk Indian Literature from Northwestern California. Berkeley, CA: Heyday Books, 1994.

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    Written in both Karuk and English, this text offers an in-depth analysis. Written in three-line format featuring a morpheme-by-morpheme translation and an English free translation, it is primarily for specialists. The translations read quite well, however, and are accompanied by helpful historical, cultural, and linguistic notes.

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  • Luthin, Herbert W., ed. Surviving Through the Days: Translations of Native California Stories and Songs. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    This collection provides a useful introduction, but to do justice to the linguistic and cultural diversity of the region requires further research. Luthin organizes the collection geographically, with just a few samples from the various regions. The second half is made up of essays on California languages and oral literatures.

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  • Sarris, Greg, ed. The Sound of Rattles and Clappers: A Collection of New California Indian Writing. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1994.

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    Native American storytelling is constantly being updated and enlivened. This collection of ten contemporary California writers provides a good example of how this tradition is alive and well. The collection includes poetry, performance art texts, and essays.

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Central America

Scholarship focusing on precolonial and colonial times refers to this region as Mesoamerica. Although often cut off from studies of Native North America and treated as a separate entity, it is extremely important to make students aware of this history because of the wealth of sources that demonstrate that native people did have non-alphabetic forms of writing and did record their own history dating back to at least 1000 BCE. Boone and Mignolo 1994 is an excellent starting point for understanding the diversity of writing in Mesoamerica and South America. Christenson 2007 translates the great Mayan epic Popol Vuh, which every anthropology undergraduate is aware of, but which is also too often ignored by scholars of American literature and history. Freidel, et al. 1993 provides a broader discussion of the remarkable sophistication of the Maya. Sahagun 1978 provides a striking example of the scholarship of the Spanish priests in the early colonial period and an important insight into how Aztec or Nahuatl people recorded their own history. León-Portilla 2006 and León-Portilla and Shorris 2002 are excellent introductory texts that are accessible to undergraduates and provide a sense of the historical and cultural expanse of this remarkable region.

  • Boone, Elizabeth Hill, and Walter D. Mignolo, eds. Writing without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.

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    It is important for undergraduates to understand that indigenous cultures did possess sophisticated forms of writing, particularly in Mesoamerica, that predated European contact. This work provides a critically important overview of the relation between oral and written texts.

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  • Christenson, Allen J. Popol Vuh: Sacred Book of the Ancient Maya. CD-ROM. Provo, UT: Center for the Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts, Brigham Young University, 2007.

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    The Maya epic Popol Vuh is one of the great works of American literature, predating the Spanish conquest and offering invaluable insight into the complex world of Maya cosmology. Christenson offers a new translation from the original K’iche’ Mayan. The CD-ROM version provides a fully searchable electronic format. Print version published by University of Oklahoma Press.

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  • Freidel, David, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker. Maya Cosmos: Three Thousands Years on the Shaman’s Path. New York: W. Morrow, 1993.

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    A highly readable intellectual excursion across three millennia, this book provides an important overview of the central philosophical, literary, and religious concepts of Maya culture. The authors also provide a corrective to the common perception that Maya culture mysteriously disappeared sometime around 900 CE.

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  • León-Portilla, Miguel. The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico. Exp. ed. Translated by Lysander Kemp. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

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    This deservedly famous text, originally published in 1962, retells the story of Spanish conquest from the Aztec point of view. León-Portilla’s scholarly command of archival materials from Europe and the Americas brings this remarkable story to life in such a way that even introductory-level classes will find compelling.

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  • León-Portilla, Miguel, and Earl Shorris. In the Language of Kings: An Anthology of Mesoamerican Literature, Pre-Columbian to the Present. New York: W. W. Norton, 2002.

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    The vast cultural complexity and the vertiginous temporal depth of Mesoamerican literary history make it difficult to represent in a single volume. This collection does a very fine job, spanning from pre-Columbian hieroglyphic documents to contemporary Maya stories, fables, and poems. León-Portilla is a preeminent scholar of Mesoamerican cultural history.

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  • Sahagun, Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. Translated by Arthur J.O. Anderson and Charles Dibble. Monographs of the School of American Research. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1978.

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    Historia general de las coasas de la Nueva España was written by de Sahagun in 1576–1577. Sahagun trained the youth of Aztec nobility to write Nahuatl in alphabetic form, and then translated the Nahuatl into Spanish. Subjects include Aztec religion, history, politics, and economic and natural history.

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Great Lakes

The Great Lakes region is home to the Ojibwes, the largest indigenous group north of the Rio Grande, if one includes the bands in the United States and Canada. The term Anishinaabeg refers more broadly to Algonquian-speaking peoples from this region. The Ojibwe are represented here in Benton-Banai 1988, written by a prominent member of his community who provides a valuable Ojibwe-centered view of the tribe’s migration from the St. Lawrence River Valley to its vast expanse in the Great Lakes region. Berens and Hallowell 2009 provides a valuable resource for researching the oral history of the Ojibwe in northern Canada collected by A. Irving Hallowell and his Ojibwe consultant William Berens. Roufs 1997–2012 and Gibagadinamaagoom: An Ojibwe Digital Archive provide informative examples of how digital technology can represent the oral tradition of the Ojibwes. Kurath, et al. 2009 studies the Anishinaabegs more broadly through the lens of music and myths. Barbeau 2010 reflects an older generation of ethnographers, although the Wyandot or Huron stories collected here are still valuable. Brightman 1990 studies the Crees, who border the Ojibwes to the north, and whose culture is intertwined with the Ojibwes. Menonominee Oral Tradition presents stories from the Ojibwe’s southern neighbors who are historically related through the Three Fires Confederacy.

  • Barbeau, Marius. Huron and Wyandot Mythology, with an Appendix Containing Earlier Published Records. Memphis: General Books, 2010.

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    Originally published by the Government Printing Bureau of Ottawa in 1915. Barbeau collected many myths, missionary accounts, and traditional narratives. This edition was recently republished and is an important resource for understanding the divisions within the Great Lakes region, the Wyandots being part of the Iroquoian language family.

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  • Benton-Banai, Edward. The Mishomis Book: The Voice of the Ojibway. Minneapolis: Red School House, 1988.

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    Benton-Banai had attained the rank of the 4th degree of the Aninshinaabe/Ojibwe Midewiwin (Grand Medicine Society) at the time he wrote the text. Deceptively simple, it contains a detailed account of the Ojibwe migration story from the East Coast and a tribal history dating back to primordial times that is extremely valuable.

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  • Berens, William, as told to A. Irving Hallowell. Memories, Myths and Dreams of an Ojibwe Leader. Edited by Jennifer S. H. Brown and Susan Elaine Gray. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009.

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    A. Irving Hallowell was one of the first anthropologists to deeply value the indigenous worldview and to give credit to his Ojibwe teacher, William Berens. Jennifer Brown and Susan Gray have edited Hallowell’s papers into a highly readable book of William Berens’ stories from northeast of Lake Winnipeg in the 1930s.

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  • Brightman, Robert A. Acadohkiwina and Acimowina: Traditional Narratives of the Rock Cree Indians. Gatineau, Quebec: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1990.

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    Brightman is a respected anthropologist who has worked among the Cree First Nations in Manitoba for many years. A good overview of some of the central motifs of Cree folklore as passed down through the oral tradition.

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  • Gibagadinamaagoom: An Ojibwe Digital Archive.

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    A digital archive edited by Timothy B. Powell and Larry P. Aitken that features videos of Ojibwe elders, artifacts from the Penn Museum, and ethnographic materials from the American Philosophical Society and the Minnesota Historical Society. The navigation system, based on the seven directions of the Ojibwe cosmology, is notable.

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  • Kurath, Gertrude, Jane Ettawageshik, and Fred Ettawageshik. The Art of Tradition: Sacred Music, Dance and Myth of Michigan’s Anishinaabe, 1946–1955. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2009.

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    Kurath and the Ettawageshiks did their research in Michigan in the 1940s and 1950s. They use the term Anishinaabe in its broader sense to include Ojibwes and closely related tribes such as the Potowatomis and Odawas/Ottawas, which together constitute the Three Fires Confederacy.

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  • Menominee Oral Tradition.” In Indian Country Wisconsin. Milwaukee, WI: Milwaukee Public Museum.

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    Stories about the cultural hero Mahabush adapted from older anthropological collections by Walter J. Hoffman, Alison B. Skinner and Satterlee, Leonard Bloom, among others. A good resource for locating a variety of works about Menominee folklore.

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  • Roufs, Tim, ed. When Everybody Called Me Gah-bay-bi-nayss, “Forever-Flying Bird”: An Ethnographic Biography of Paul Peter Buffalo. Duluth: University of Minnesota, 1997–2012.

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    Edited by Tim Roufs, this innovative website that features the Ojibwe oral tradition as told by Paul Buffalo (Gah-bah-bi-nays), son of an Ojibwe medicine woman. Buffalo speaks of religion, herbal medicine, the Ojibwe language, and the teachings of his mother.

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Northeast

The Native American tribes and First Nations of the Northeast were very hard hit by the first wave of British colonization, which decimated many of the languages, although the stories and the people live on. Bierhorst 1995 provides a valuable guide to working with the mythology of the Lenapes, who are referred to by many other tribes as “grandfathers,” thereby suggesting that they may have been one of the oldest cultural groups in the region. Hewitt 1918 and Porter 2008 provide rich resources collected by members of the Iroquois Confederacy, one of the most powerful groups in the region. Speck 1998 is a classic work of ethnography focused on the Penobscot culture. Wiseman 2001 constitutes an innovative, even radical, effort to rethink the historiography of Abenaki culture. LeSourd 2009 is a fine collection of stories from the Maliseets that is a more linguistically focused analysis. Obomasawin 2006 is an important filmic account of how elders pass on the oral tradition in the Abenaki culture. Fawcett 2000 is a valuable look, through the eyes of Gladys Tantaquidgeon, into the Mohegan culture in the southern part of this region.

  • Bierhorst, John. Mythology of the Lenape: Guide and Texts. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1995.

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    The Lenapes were commonly referred to as “grandfathers” by many other tribes on the Eastern seaboard, leading some scholars to conclude that they are one of the oldest tribes in the region. Bierhorst’s book contains a complex series of cross-referencing of interest to advanced students of folklore and anthropology.

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  • Fawcett, Melissa Jayne. Medicine Trail: The Life and Lessons of Gladys Tantaquidgeon. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2000.

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    Gladys Tantaquidgeon was a Mohegan traditionalist who worked closely with the anthropologist Frank G. Speck, trained to do field work at the University of Pennsylvania, and later returning to her community as a council member and medicine woman. The book juxtaposes the oral tradition with more conventional historical context.

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  • Hewitt, J. N. B., ed. Seneca Fiction, Legends, and Myths. Collected by Jeremiah Curtin and J. N. B. Hewitt. Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1918.

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    Hewitt is an extremely important figure in the history of anthropology. A member of the Tuscarora Nation, he was one of the first indigenous anthropologists and a founder of the field. A massive work, more than eight hundred pages in length, related to the history of the Senecas and the Iroquois confederacy. Reprinted in 2005 by University Press of the Pacific.

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  • LeSourd, Phillip S., ed and trans. Tales from Maliseet Country: The Maliseet Texts of Karl V. Teeter. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

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    Phillip LeSourd is a linguist who translated these stories, originally collected by Karl V. Teeter working with Maliseet consultant Peter Lewis Paul. Paul sought out the best storytellers born before 1900. The book is written in a bilingual format, with the Maliseet and English versions of the stories printed on facing pages.

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  • Obomasawin, Alanis, dir. Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises. DVD. Montreal: National Film Board of Canada, 2006.

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    One of the finest indigenous filmmakers, Obomasawin’s career spans four decades. This film documents the voices and worldview of Abenaki elders from the Odanak community in Quebec. An excellent example of how film can provide effective medium for capturing dimensions of oral literature difficult to replicate on the white page.

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  • Porter, Tom. And Grandma Said . . .: Iroquois Teachings as Passed Down through the Oral Tradition. Transcribed and edited by Lesley Forrester. Drawings by John Kahionhes Fadden. Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2008.

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    Captures the humor and profound insights of the respected Mohawk elder Tom Porter (Sakokweniónkwas). The narrative covers a wide range of topics from the creation story to the four sacred rituals to the Great Law of Peace to pregnancy. Captures the cadences and cycles of storytelling in the oral tradition.

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  • Speck, Frank G. Penobscot Man. Orono: University of Maine Press, 1998.

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    As one of Franz Boas’ first graduate students, Frank Speck occupies an important position in the history of anthropology, and Penobscot Man is considered to be a masterpiece of ethnographical research. Speck did his research among the Penobscots in the early 1900s, although the book was not published until 1940.

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  • Wiseman, Frederick Matthew. The Voice of the Dawn: An Autohistory of the Abenaki Nation. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2001.

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    An interesting, if somewhat controversial, alternative to conventional histories of the Native Northeast. Wiseman’s account begins with the receding of the Ice Age and continues up to the contemporary Abenaki political renaissance. Unabashedly “Abenaki-centric.”

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Indian Territory, Oklahoma

“Indian Territory,” in this context, refers to a region of the country in what is now Oklahoma and its environs that was the endpoint for many tribes relocated during the removal period. The period can be said to begin with the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which led directly to the removal of the Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Seminoles. Altogether, twenty-five tribes were removed to what is now Oklahoma from many different parts of the United States. The federal government initially promised that Indian Territory would become its own state. This promise was irrevocably broken with the creation of the state of Oklahoma in 1907. Bailey 2010 provides a collection of stories from the Osage tribe, which occupied the land before the influx of removed tribes. Kilpatrick and Kilpatrick 1995 is written by two noted ethnographers who documented the oral history of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, the largest group in the region. Momaday 1969 provides a very imaginative rendering of how the Kiowas maintained their own history even after removal. Schorer 1986 is a collection of stories from the Wyandots or Hurons, Miamis, and Shawnees, all of whom were relocated to Indian Territory in the 19th century. Warrior 1995, Womack 1999, and Justice 2006 provide a good example of contemporary Native American scholars from Oklahoma who are rethinking how the intellectual traditions from this region are represented.

  • Bailey, Garrick, ed. Traditions of the Osage: Stories Collected and Translated by Francis La Flesche. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010.

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    La Flesche collected these narratives in Oklahoma between 1910 and 1923 for the Bureau of American Ethnology. La Flesche was Omaha, the son of Chief Iron Eyes, and a native speaker (Osage and Omaha are closely related and mutually intelligible). Divided into categories of sacred teachings, folk stories, and animal stories.

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  • Justice, Daniel Heath. Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.

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    Part of a new generation of Native American scholars who utilize traditional forms of knowledge, Justice draws upon the legacy of the Chickamauga revolt to understand how the oral tradition and works of literature helped the Cherokees survive the Trail of Tears.

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  • Kilpatrick, Jack F., and Anna G. Kilpatrick. Friends of Thunder: Folktales of the Oklahoma Cherokees. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

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    Jack and Anna Kilpatrick were a husband and wife team, both of whom were Cherokees from Oklahoma. They collected and translated these folktales in 1961 from seventeen Cherokee elders. The collection includes ethnographic, musical, and historic material in addition to the stories.

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  • Momaday, N. Scott. The Way to Rainy Mountain. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1969.

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    Momaday won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn (1968), helping Native American literature enter the mainstream and curricula across the country. The Way to Rainy Mountain works in dialogue with James Mooney’s Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians.

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  • Schorer, C. E., ed. Indian Tales of C. C. Trowbridge: Collected from Wyandots, Miamis, and Shawanoes. Brighton, MI: Green Oak Press, 1986.

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    A very early collection of stories compiled by Charles Christopher Trowbridge in the 1920s. Trowbridge was an amateur ethnographer who accompanied Lewis Cass on his exploration of the Northwest Territories. The Miamis, Wyandots, and Shawnees were all removed from their ancestral homelands to Indian Territory in the 19th century.

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  • Warrior, Robert Allen. Tribal Secrets: Recovering American Indian Intellectual Traditions. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

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    Warrior, who is descended from the Osages who originally occupied the region that eventually became Indian Territory, does a fine job of recovering the indigenous intellectual traditions of the early and mid-20th century that made the contemporary turn in Native American scholarship possible.

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  • Womack, Craig S. Red on Red: Native American Literary Separatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

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    Red on Red is, categorically speaking, a work of literary criticism. Womack, however, intersperses fictional passages between the chapters written the style of old Muscogee/Creek men sitting on porches in Oklahoma. A very inventive take on the role of the oral tradition in academic writing.

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Plains

The horse-mounted warriors of the Plains, adorned in feathered headdresses, are indelibly etched into the American imagination as the face of Native America. The works in this section provide a more detailed and historically accurate depiction of the stories of these cultures from the 1800s to the present day. Mooney 1979, Dorsey and Kroeber 1997, and Lowie 2004 represent the classic ethnographic tradition of the early 20th century. Wissler and Duvall 2007 provides an example of the more recent trend of collaboration between anthropologists and native scholars. Zitkala-Sa 2003 and Sutter 2004 represent an older and more contemporary example of native people collecting stories from their own communities. Parks 1996 and Lakota Winter Counts: An Online Exhibit are innovative examples of, respectively, ethnopoetics and digital exhibits.

  • Dorsey, George A., and Alfred L. Kroeber. Traditions of the Arapaho. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1997.

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    Jeffrey D. Anderson provides a useful introduction to this classic ethnography by Dorsey and Kroeber. It includes the Arapaho origin myth and a great many stories collected in the 19th century and originally published in 1903.

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  • Lakota Winter Counts: An Online Exhibit. Washington, DC: National Museum of Natural History.

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    Commissioned by the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institute, this online exhibit is one of the finest examples of how digital technology, oral history, and traditional forms such as Lakota Winter Counts can be integrated effectively. Winter Counts are pictographic calendars that would have originally been accompanied by the oral tradition.

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  • Lowie, Robert H. The Crow Indians. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 2004.

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    Lowie, an anthropologist who originally published his findings on the Crow Nation in 1935, was primarily interested in ceremonies, religion, and stories. The new Bison Books edition is prefaced by an introduction by Phenocia Bauerle, an enrolled member of the Crow Nation, who offers an important critique of Lowie’s research methods.

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  • Mooney, James. Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979.

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    Originally published in 1898, Mooney’s ethnography of the Kiowa pictographic calendars is a very helpful resource for understanding the relationship between oral history and the pictographic records kept by many tribes. A Kiowa Indian named Anko created the original. Mooney annotates the pictographs with information gathered from interviews with tribal members.

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  • Parks, Douglas R. Myths and Traditions of the Arikara Indians. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

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    A condensed version of Park’s four volume Traditional Narratives of the Arikara Indians, collected from eleven narrators in the 1970s and 1980s. Parks employs a unique ethnopoetic approach that differs from that of Dennis Tedlock and Dell Hymes, who helped found this approach. Very approachable.

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  • Sutter, Virginia J. Tell Me, Grandmother: Traditions, Stories, and Cultures of Arapaho People. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2004.

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    Sutter is an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Nation. She uses an innovative style that weaves together her own story as a public administrator for the Pit River Tribe in California with that of her great-grandmother, Goes-in-Lodge, who was married to Sharpnose, a chief of the northern Arapaho.

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  • Wissler, Clark, and D. C. Duvall, comps. and trans. Mythology of the Blackfoot Indians. 2d ed. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 2007.

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    These stories were originally collected and translated by Wissler and Duvall and published in 1908 by the American Museum of National History. Introductions by Alice Beck Kehoe, a respected linguist, and Darrell Kipp, a Blackfoot/Piegan scholar who cofounded the Piegan Institute, provide context for work collected in an earlier age.

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  • Zitkala-Sa. American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Edited by Cathy N. Davidson and Ada Norris. New York: Penguin, 2003.

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    The Lakota writer and activist Zitkala-Sa (b. 1876–d. 1938) was a remarkable woman. The literary scholar Cathy N. Davidson does a fine job of collecting the many different kinds of writing done by Zitkala-Sa, from recording traditional stories about the Lakota Trickster figure Iktomi to articles published in Atlantic Monthly.

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South

The southern part of the United States has a rich history of indigenous cultures dating back to the Mound Builders (3400 BCE–1542 CE) and continuing to the present day. Swanton 1929 provides the best overview of the entire region. Carter 1995 traces the Caddo culture from Oklahoma, to which the tribe was removed, back to their roots in the South. Mooney 1992 is an excellent source for Cherokee stories, collected in the late 19th century. Duncan 1998 provides an important collection of traditional Cherokee tales told by contemporary storytellers. Jumper 1994 is a Seminole storyteller and speaker of the language. Kimball 2010 collects Koasati stories from a number of historical sources ranging from 1910 to 1992. Mould 2004 brings together tales and legends from the Choctaw culture.

  • Carter, Cecile Elkins. Caddo Indians: Where We Come From. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.

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    The Caddos’ ancestral homeland was in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. This analysis connects stories from the past and present using a wide range of sources including archaeological data, oral histories, and historical accounts from the 17th to 20th centuries. A narrative history, rather than a collection of stories.

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  • Duncan, Barbara R., ed. Living Stories of the Cherokee. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

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    These stories were collected from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina from contemporary storytellers. The Cherokee storytellers, including Davey Arch, Marie Junaluska, and Robert Busheyhead, are highly respected keepers of traditional knowledge. Provides a valuable insight into the living nature of the oral tradition.

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  • Jumper, Betty Mae. Legends of the Seminoles. Sarasota, FL: Pineapple Press, 1994.

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    Betty Mae Jumper is a Seminole storyteller and speaker, still living in the tribe’s ancestral homelands in Florida. A slim volume, but a valuable collection of stories from the Seminoles, who were able to hide in the Everglades to avoid removal to Oklahoma in the 19th century.

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  • Kimball, Geoffrey D., trans. Koasati Traditional Narratives. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.

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    This collection is the first work of Koasati oral literature ever to be published. Noted anthropologists John R. Swanton, Mary R. Haas, and Geoffrey D. Kimball collected the stories between 1910 and 1992. Kimball includes multiple versions of stories to demonstrate the fluid nature of oral literatures.

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  • Mooney, James. James Mooney’s History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Asheville, NC: Bright Mountain Books, 1992.

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    An encyclopedic account of the culture of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, published in 1891 and 1900. The sacred formulae are culturally sensitive. The best way to approach this complex text is by using the index, which is printed after the myths section, not at the end of the book.

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  • Mould, Tom, ed. Choctaw Tales. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

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    The first book to bring together Choctaw stories; the collection is well done and includes annotations, analysis, photographs of the storytellers, Choctaw language versions of some stories, and a wide array of topics ranging from primordial to historic times.

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  • Swanton, John R. Myths and Tales of the Southeastern Indians. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 88. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1929.

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    Swanton was a distinguished anthropologist who collected works from the Creek, Hitchiti, Alabama, Koasati, and Natchez cultures, which are descended from the highly sophisticated Mound Builder cultures from the precontact period. In the final chapter, Swanton offers a comparative analysis.

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Southwest

The Southwest is a rich region for Native American oral literature because so many of the tribes have remained on their ancestral homeland for generations. These communities are very protective of traditional knowledge, so it is important to respect culturally sensitive materials. Cushing 1901 and Parsons 1994 represent a prior era of anthropological collecting. Hughte 1994 is a very humorous account of Cushing 1901 from a Zuni perspective. Evers and Molina 1987 is an excellent example of the collaborative approach that is more valued in contemporary times. Bahr 1994 offers a sense of the tremendous temporal depth of storytelling in this region by tracing Pima narratives back to the Hohokam culture (1 CE–450 CE). Courlander 1987 focuses on the Hopi tradition, which can be traced back to the Puebloan cultures that flourished in the 1100s. Zolbrod 1984 translates the Navajo creation story, an epic of immense importance. Navajo Visual Poetry is an innovative online project utilizing digital technology to explore the relationship between the oral tradition and material culture.

  • Bahr, Donald M. The Short Swift Time of Gods on Earth: The Hohokam Chronicles. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520084674.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In 1935, Juan Smith told the entire creation story of the Pima, or Akimel O’odham, people, recorded and translated by William Smith Allison with the assistance of the archaeologist Julian Hayden. Bahr published this account for the first time and provides a richly nuanced context for the thirty-six song/story cycle.

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  • Courlander, Harold. The Fourth World of the Hopis: The Epic Story of the Hopi Indians as Preserved in Their Legends and Traditions. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.

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    A collection of twenty myths and tales collected between 1968 and 1970 from eleven Hopi storytellers. Taken together, they provide a good overview of the Hopis’ rich ceremonial and historic traditions, ranging from the emergence to migrations to historical times.

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  • Cushing, Frank Hamilton. Zuni Folk Tales. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1901.

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    A classic anthropological text. Frank Cushing collected thirty-three tales between 1879 and 1884, when he lived among the Zunis. The Zunis have mixed memories of Cushing, which are nicely captured by Phil Hughte in A Zuni Artist Looks at Frank Hamilton Cushing (Hughte 1994).

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  • Evers, Larry, and Felipe S. Molina. Yaqui Deer Songs/Maso Bwikam: A Native American Poetry. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1987.

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    An outstanding example of the best in contemporary anthropological research in which Larry Evers collaborates with Felipe S. Molina, a Yaqui deer singer, to produce a very entertaining and richly detailed analysis augmented by beautiful photographs.

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  • Hughte, Phil. A Zuni Artist Looks at Frank Hamilton Cushing. Discourse by Jim Ostler, commentary by Kriztina Kosse. Zuni, NM: Pueblo of Zuni Arts & Crafts, 1994.

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    A humorous look, through Hughte’s cartoons, at the famous anthropologist Frank Hamilton Cushing, who lived among the Zuni from 1879 to 1884, wearing Zuni style dress and publishing Zuni Folk Tales. Provides a great teaching tool for maintaining perspective on the “authority” of early anthropological accounts.

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  • Navajo Visual Poetry. In UbuWeb Ethnopoetics.

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    Ubuweb: Ethnopoetics is an important online resource, edited by the noted scholar Jerome Rothenberg, one of the founders of the ethnopoetic approach. The digital archive contains interesting material on Navajo sand-paintings as they relate to specific chants from the Navajo or Diné culture.

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  • Parsons, Elsie Worthington Clews. Tewa Tales. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1994.

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    Originally published in 1926; Parsons collected a hundred stories from eight Native American storytellers, who insisted on remaining anonymous because the community discouraged sharing such stories with outsiders. Like many anthropological collections, the ethnographic value of the work must be weighed against the tribe’s sovereign rights to protect their own heritage.

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  • Zolbrod, Paul G. Diné Bahane’: The Navajo Creation Story. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984.

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    An important text for teaching creation stories as centrally important to indigenous cultures. This epic is long and richly detailed. Zolbrod provides a helpful commentary that makes the work more accessible to undergraduate and graduate students. The Dinés are one of the largest Native American nations.

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